Amar chitra katha

For those too young to remember him, Amar Singh was the man who is said to have rebuffed a very lucrative career as the brand ambassador of Pan Parag, the paan masala giant, so that he could serve the nation. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Sep 22, 2012 21:48 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times

I know it's like talking about beef kebabs in a Lakshmi temple, but as I watched the Great Deadpanhandler on prime minister-time television on Friday evening inject courage in our hearts by telling us to "not be misled by those who want to confuse you by spreading fear and false information", I was thinking of another Singh.

For those too young to remember him, Amar Singh was the man who is said to have rebuffed a very lucrative career as the brand ambassador of Pan Parag, the paan masala giant, so that he could serve the nation. As the general secretary of the Samajwadi Party (SP), he was once the face and attaché-carrying arm of the regional party and was, in the mould of the CPI(M)'s Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the Great Facilitator. (That comparison would have definitely earned me a fatwa from the Left. But thankfully, the Left no longer issues fatwas.)

Amar Singh was also the Great Defibrillator when the UPA 1 government had its moment of crisis before turning it into its moment of triumph four years ago. It was Singh's - for the lack of another word - genius as a one-man social networking site that helped convince the Congress to seek out Mulayam Singh Yadav's support when the CPI(M) withdrew its support to the UPA over the India-US civil nuclear deal in 2008.

In the UPA 2's moment of crisis, caused by the departure of Mamata 'I Want to Live Like a Tiger Cub' Banerjee's Trinamool Congress from the ruling alliance last week, there was no Amar Singh to facilitate matters. But it was his philosophy of politics abhorring a vacuum that was used this time too when the SP came to the UPA's rescue.

"The SP will vote for the [nuclear] deal on July 22 on the basis of the prime minister's assurances," Amar Singh had told the nation in 2008, carefully adding that the party was not with the UPA on the issue of price rise. Before Friday, Mulayam Singh must have taken out Amar Singh's heavily underlined copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People that he had forgotten to return, and even before Banerjee took her train out of New Delhi Station, the SP chief announced that his party's support to the UPA would continue even as it will "continue to oppose FDI and the diesel price increase".

In both cases of knights from the SP in shining kurta coming to rescue the UPA damsel in distress, the reason cited for supporting the central government - despite not caring two hoots for what the prime minister had to say about the need for nuclear power then and the need for FDI reforms now - was that old chestnut: to keep communal forces at bay.

With general elections closer today than they were when the SP romped to power in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, Mulayam Singh's party needs some more time to enhance its skills in doing what the expelled Amar Singh was so good at. That Mulayam is thinking of doing a 'Golden Double', with son Akhilesh in Lucknow keeping the homefires burning while in Delhi he plays a super-Amar Singh role, is neither unthinkable nor diabolical.

So while Manmohan Singh may have made a strong, blinkless pitch for unleashing animal spirits through the next round of reforms - and retrofitting what's actually the Samajwadi Party's motto, 'The world is not kind to those who do not tackle their own problems' - his firm belief that money doesn't grow on trees will be put to the test by the Amar Singh School of Democracy sooner rather than later. After all, a year after saving UPA 1, it was Singh who aired the SP's view that supporting the government during the confidence vote had been an "historic blunder".

Amar Singh today is to the Samajwadi Party what PV Narasimha Rao is to the Congress: a taboo subject. Earlier this month, no one bothered to treat Singh's threat about writing a tell-all autobiography seriously, not even after he told one vaguely-interested newspaper, "If I tell the truth, some people and stars would have to commit suicide. So it's better I hold back my words."

As the UPA government wakes up from early retirement and gets back to work, a bearded, slimmer, visibly older, prison-alumnus Amar Singh remains in the attic. Whether the SP returns to its old Lohia-ite roots, far from the madding crowds of Big B - Big Business - as some commentators are now suggesting, is something that we will get to know in the coming months. Toothpaste has been put back into the tube before. I think.

In the meantime, even as the spirit of Amar Singh continues to linger in the house of the UPA, a superstitious government has suddenly started to air its doubts about the existence of ghosts. A much-needed step to stop being afraid of apparitions holding it to ransom.

First Published: Sep 22, 2012 21:42 IST